DEAR MIKE: One of my neighbors recently moved, and as a parting gift he gave me an airless paint sprayer. I want to paint my living room. I have never used a paint sprayer before, but he did give me the manual. Is spraying paint easier than using a brush and roller? -- Robert P.
DEAR ROBERT: It depends on who you ask. Some swear by the sprayer and others by the roller. You can get a quality paint job with either method, but each method also has its drawbacks.
When spraying a room, the paint goes on the surface quickly, but it goes on every surface quickly, so everything you don't want painted must be completely covered. That is the Achilles' heel of the spraying process.
If everything is masked and covered, you can spray an average size house in less than a day. If you are painting just your living room, you can spray it in an hour, but you have to prep the room first.
If you can, remove everything from the room. If something is too large, put it in the middle of the room and cover it with a plastic tarp. I know some painters who cover furniture with sheeting and then tape the sheeting to the floor.
The enemy here is overspray and "dry fall." Dry fall is paint dust that sticks to anything it touches. It can be wiped or scrubbed off, but it is best to avoid it altogether.
Remove all switch plate covers and window coverings. Also, tape over outlets and switches as well as doorknobs, doorstops, hinges and strike plates. Remove light fixture covers, and cover the light bases with plastic bags and tape. You may choose to spray over air registers depending on their condition.
A great tool for this job is a masking machine. It costs about $30 and is versatile.
The masker allows you to lay a strip of masking paper over a surface very quickly. I like using 12-inch-wide masking paper. You simply stick the spool of paper on the machine and thread it so that as it exits the end of the masker, it attaches to the masking tape and you stick it to the surface.
You can buy a cutting attachment or just use a utility knife to trim the end. Just make sure the paper is secured and won't lift.
To protect flooring, you can use a width of masking paper for the perimeter and then cover the floor with drop cloths or sheeting. Push the tape under the base with either a wallpaper smoothing tool or a dull putty knife. Make sure the coverings for your flooring are secure.
You also want to cover yourself up. Obviously, wear old clothes or buy a paper spray suit and a spray sock for your head. Wear protection for your eyes, and strap on an organic vapor respirator for your lungs (when you start to smell paint through the respirator, it's time to change the filters).
The spray gun will have a changeable tip for different applications. For your purposes, use a 617 tip (the first digit is half the width of the spray at a 12-inch distance; the second two digits is the diameter of the orifice in hundredths of an inch). This means that at 12 inches away from the wall, you will get a swath of paint a foot wide.
Prime the sprayer according to your manual and thin the paint if necessary. Take a few test sprays and adjust the pressure to get a nice even fan.
You want to hold the gun about 18 inches from the surface and keep the gun moving. Move your arm and then squeeze the trigger; when you approach the end of the stroke, release the trigger and then stop the movement. The fan of paint should hit the surface head-on and each stroke should overlap the previous one by 50 percent. This will give good coverage on your surface.
Start with the ceiling and spray it in one direction. When you finish with that coat, give it a second coat by spraying perpendicular to the first. This will give an even covering with little touch-up work.
Follow the same procedure for the walls, doing one wall at a time.
When the room is done, inspect the walls for any areas you have missed and hit it again with the sprayer. Just roll the gun in and roll it out so that the paint will blend in smoothly.
Wait a couple of hours before you remove the masking tape. If you pull too early, the paint may run and if you pull too late, the paint may dry onto the tape and pull off of the wall as you remove the tape.
A nasty finishing blow to spraying is cleaning out the sprayer. This process can take an hour or two depending on how picky you are, but it involves taking the gun apart and running water or cleaner through the system.
Maybe a brush and roller aren't so bad after all.